16 Free Things To Do In Madrid For An Unforgettable Trip
Madrid is a bustling metropolis, the second largest city in the E.U. and the capital of Spain. It has everything you would expect from a major European capital. It is also a fairly affordable city and luckily there are plenty of cool free things to do in Madrid!
The city is jam-packed with beautiful architecture and cultural attractions. But one thing that really stood out to me was how clean and organized Madrid is for such a big city.
Many tourists skip Madrid because it is not by the beach. But it is an amazing city and well worth visiting even if you travel on a tight budget. So keep reading to find out the best free things to do in Madrid.
1. Go Inside The Royal Palace of Madrid For Free
The Royal Palace of Madrid is right in the heart of Madrid and a good place to start exploring the city.
The Royal Palace has been the official residence of the royal family of Spain since 1561. But the original palace was burnt down in a fire on Christmas Eve in 1734. Construction of the new palace was started in 1738 and finished in 1759.
Today the Royal Palace has over 3,000 rooms and is full of art and royal artifacts collected by the royal family over the centuries.
Luckily there is also free admission: From Monday to Thursday from 5 pm to 7 pm (4 pm to 6 pm in winter), for EU citizens, residents, and holders of work permits in the EU, and citizens of Latin American countries.
Unfortunately, if you are not in any of these categories there is no free admission. But it is still an impressive building and viewing it from the outside is a great free thing to do in Madrid.
2. Check Out The Catedral De La Almudena
Located right next to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena which is another great free thing to do in Madrid.
The Catedral took over 100 years to build and was finished in 1993. The cathedral has an interesting exterior and it is worth going for a look inside.
Entrance to Catedral de la Almudena is free and it is open from 10 am to 8:30 pm every day.
3. Visit The Prado Museum (A Free Thing To Do In Madrid For Art Lovers)
The Prado Museum is an art museum in Madrid and is considered to be one of the best museums in the world. It houses a huge collection of European art and is visited by over 2 million people every year.
Entrance to the museum is usually 15 euros but there is also free admission from Monday to Saturday 6 pm to 8 pm.
You will have to be prepared for long lines and big crowds if you go during the free hours. But as long as you are willing to put up with that you can visit one of the greatest museums in the world for free!
4. Wander Through El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is the most well-known park in Madrid. It is a huge green space full of sculptures, fountains and pretty gardens.
The park was created between 1630 and 1640 and was originally the grounds of the Buen Retiro Palace. The Buen Retiro Palace was the second home of the King of Spain. However, the king only spent a few days a year in the palace.
The Buen Retiro Palace remained an official residence of the King of Spain until the late 1700s. But during the Peninsular War in the early 1800s damage was caused to the palace and it was demolished.
Gradually over the years, the park turned into a green space for the people of Madrid. Today it is a favorite spot for them to come to escape the business of the city.
Entrance to the park is free and it is one of the most relaxing things to do in Madrid. Some free must-see sites in the park are:
- Palacio de Cristal is a beautiful glass building used for art exhibitions.
- Estanque Grande de El Retiro is a large pond with an impressive monument. There are some stands to grab a drink nearby or you can even take a boat and head out on the pond. We saw teams playing water polo in kayaks which was cool to watch.
- Palacio de Velasquez is a free small art museum in the park that is worth a quick look.
- Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez are some beautiful classic gardens that have peacocks roaming around them.
5. Get Lost At El Rastro Flea Market
El Rastro is a huge flea market that happens in Madrid from 9 am to 3 pm every Sunday. You can find almost anything you want such as second-hand clothing, antiques, crafts, books, records, furniture, and more.
The market covers a huge area close to downtown and is a great free thing to do in Madrid’s center.
6. Take A Picture At The Madrid Letters
The Madrid letters are a great place to visit in Madrid to snap a photo. They are located on the edge of Parque Casa de Campo which is the largest park in Madrid.
The letters are made of recycled glass from the city’s recycling system. So they are a tribute to the sustainability efforts of the citizens which is a cool idea.
Casa de Campo is also a great place to visit in Madrid to go for a walk and escape the city. So if you feel like a walk head down to the letters for a picture then explore the park afterward.
7. Relax At Temple Of Debod (A Free Thing To Do In Madrid With A View)
The Temple of Debod is an Egyptian temple that was taken apart and reassembled in Madrid. The temple was moved from Egypt as a dam was being constructed that was going to cover the temple in water.
Spain had sent help to save the much more famous Abu Simbel Temples that would have been destroyed by the dam. So as a thank you Egypt sent the Temple of Debod to Madrid where it remains today.
The temple although interesting is not that impressive but it is still definitely worth visiting the area. This is mainly due to the location of the park where the temple is.
The park is on the top of a hill that looks over at the Catedral de Almudena and the Royal Palace. You get an awesome view of both and there are nice grassed areas to relax.
It is also a great place to watch the sunset over the city and enjoy some street musicians playing. That makes it a great free thing to do in Madrid at night.
8. Go Inside The Reina Sofia For Free
The Reina Sofia is Spain’s national museum for 20th-century art. In the museum, you will find collections mainly from Spanish artists. Included are collections from Picasso and Salvador Dali – two of Spain’s most famous artists.
The museum is huge so if you really want to have a good look it will take a half day. But if you aren’t an art fanatic then a couple of hours strolling around will probably do.
We found sections of the museum to be super interesting and the Picasso and Dali paintings are great. So even if you are not that into art it is worth a visit especially as you can visit for free!
You can visit the Reina Sofia on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday from 7-9 pm and on Sunday from 12:30-2:30 pm for free.
I recommend booking the free tickets in advance on the Reina Sofia Website. You can also get them by turning up at the museum but you might get stuck in a big line.
9. Walk Across Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is a huge square in the middle of old Madrid. The square was first built between 1580 and 1619 and used to be the central market of Madrid.
Today it is mainly an area for tourists to stroll through and stop at the cafes and restaurants around the edges. It is a very touristy area so you will be paying tourist prices to eat and drink here.
The size of the square is impressive though so go for a walk, then eat and drink somewhere else!
10. Check Out Cibeles Palace For Free
Cibeles Palace is a beautiful old building and one of Madrid’s most iconic that used to be the city’s post office.
Today the building is the location of the Madrid City council but you can also visit the building for free. The interior is beautifully decorated and they may have some free art exhibitions. So it is a great free thing to do in Madrid.
The Cibeles Palace is also right next to the Cibeles Fountain another famous landmark in Madrid. Coming here in the evening is a great free thing to do in Madrid at night as both the palace and the statue are beautifully lit up.
11. Eat Local At Mercado De San Miguel (Best Free Thing To Do In Madrid For Foodies)
The Mercado de San Miguel was originally built in 1916. While it was originally a market for fresh produce, today it is primarily for tourists due to its location right next to Plaza Mayor.
The market is beautifully designed with 20 different stalls selling tapas, baked goods, beer, wine, olives, and more. It is a great place to visit in Madrid to try some regional specialties and local drinks right in the center of town.
Most stalls give away little samples for free so despite being a very touristy place and overpriced it deserves a spot on this list of free things to do in Madrid. The market gets over 10 million visitors a year so it is very likely to be busy when you visit!
12. Enjoy The Colorful Chueca Neighborhood
Chueca is the LGBT center of Madrid and is one of the most buzzing areas of the city. The streets are full of bars, restaurants and cafes. So it is a great place to visit in Madrid to go for a walk and soak up the street life.
If you arrive in Chueca by metro you will exit at Plaza de Chueca. Here you will see many restaurants and cafes with tables out on the street and there is a really nice atmosphere. Although not free it is a great place to stop for a drink and one of the cheap things to do in Madrid.
13. Stroll Down Gran Via
Gran Via is the most famous street in Madrid it is full of restaurants, large shopping centers, and some of Madrid’s most famous buildings.
The street was completed in 1929 and over 300 buildings and 50 streets were demolished to build it. The construction of the street was the start of the modernization of Madrid.
Before the street was built the center of Madrid was full of narrow congested alleyways. The large boulevard is intended to ease access to different parts of the city.
During the period the street copied many architectural trends that were popular in America such as skyscrapers. So along Gran Via, you will notice a lot of very tall buildings which is a unique sight that you usually don’t see in Europe.
Even though the street is full of big chain retailers such as H&M it is a great street to walk down and see all the big buildings and feel the energy of the city.
14. Have A Look At The Caixa Forum
The Caixa Forum is a cultural center in Madrid that offers rotating exhibitions throughout the year. One cool feature is that the exterior wall of the building is covered in a massive vertical garden.
Walking past and seeing the green wall is cool enough but you can also enter the building for free. Most of the exhibits have a small entry fee, around 6 euros. But otherwise, you can walk around inside which is totally free.
15. See Madrid’s Jungle In The Atocha Train Station (A Unique Thing To Do In Madrid)
Madrid is a very dry city and if you visit in summer the air is unbelievably dry. It can be 40°C and you will barely break a sweat. So it is not somewhere that you would expect to find a jungle. But Madrid has its own little jungle inside the Atocha train station.
The high metal roof and glass ceilings of the station made it ideal for use as a greenhouse. So a botanical garden has been set up inside the train station.
The garden has over 7,000 plants from the Americas, Asia, and Australia. So if you arrive by train in Madrid you can walk by the garden as you leave the station.
16. Visit The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum For Free
The Thyssen-Bornmisza is another of Madrid’s most famous art museums. It is part of the “golden triangle” or art museums in the city along with the Prado and Reina Sofia.
The museum was initially the private art collection of Heinrich Thyssen. Thyssen was a German-Hungarian entrepreneur and art collector and used to keep his art collection in a museum in Switzerland.
In the 1980’s he was looking for a new location for his collection and he decided to move it to Madrid as at the time he had a Spanish wife. Today it is one of the most popular museums in Madrid and is full of classical European art.
There is free entry every Monday from 12 pm to 4 pm. If you are not in Madrid on a Monday then entry will cost you 12 euros.
How To Get To Madrid Cheap
Madrid airport is well connected to airports all over the world. So no matter where you are traveling from it should be easy to find a cheap flight to Madrid.
But if you are traveling from Barcelona to Madrid (as many people traveling around Spain will) then the best and more sustainable option is to travel by train.
👉 18 Free Things To Do In Barcelona
High-speed trains depart from Barcelona to Madrid several times a day. The train is comfortable, fast and if you book in advance very cheap.
If you book in advance you can tickets for around 15-20 euros one-way and the journey takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. This is an awesome deal because if you were to drive it would take almost 7 hours!
To book tickets for that train visit trainline.com. There are multiple train companies that do the trip and you will see all of them on that website.
Getting Around Madrid Cheap
Madrid has an excellent public transport system so I would recommend getting a travel card on arrival. Unfortunately, there are no free transport options around Madrid but the metro is very affordable.
At any metro stop you can buy a travel multi card for 2.50 euros. With this card, you can load single or 10 journey tickets on the same machine. You can share one travel card with other people as long as you travel the same distance.
In most cases, it is worth it to get the 10-journey ticket as Madrid is quite large and it is very convenient to be able to use all metros and intercity busses with it. Plus you get a discount. The 10-journey ticket costs 18.30 euros so each ride costs 1.83 euros.
How To Get To The Airport Cheap
If you want to use the metro to go to the airport when you leave there is an extra airport charge that you can load onto the travel multi card.
But we found out that if you take bus 200, which goes between Avenida de America and the airport (T1 and T2) you can use a normal journey or the last ride of your 10-journey ticket without the extra charge.
That way the ride to the airport will only cost you 1.83 euros! The bus also just takes about 15 minutes so that’s the way to go.
Best Time To Visit To Do All Free Things In Madrid
Madrid is the driest European capital so has very little rain year-round. So no matter what time of year you visit you will most likely not see much rain.
The summers in Madrid can however be incredibly hot and the winters can be quite chilly. So the best time to visit is in my opinion in spring or autumn.
If you visit in these months it will not be too hot or too cold and you will miss the peak tourist season which will save you a lot of money. In July and August Madrid can very very, very hot and there is no beach nearby to cool off.
How To Stay For Free In Madrid
This is a great tip for pet lovers. We stayed in Madrid for almost 2 weeks for free using TrustedHousesitters looking after a cute cat in a beautiful apartment close to El Retiro Park.
We have used TrustedHousesitters in many places around the world and always had a great experience! Besides the amazing people, homes, and pets you meet it also really helps you save money while traveling.
👉 Read more about TrustedHousesitters here and save 25% on the membership fee here.
Now You Know All The Best Free Things To Do In Madrid
Madrid is an amazing city and hopefully, you will enjoy it even more with our tips. There are plenty of free museums in Madrid and great places to visit so make sure to put it on your travel list.
If you found these tips helpful or would like to add more to the list of free things to do in Madrid leave us a comment below!